The Purge: Anarchy (2014) Review

 

P1The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

104 mins

Dir: James DeMonaco

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Zoe Soul, Justina Machado, John Beasley, Michael K Williams and Jack Conley

In a future America, for one night a year, all crime, including murder, is legal. Three intersecting stories combine together as five doomed souls try to survive the night and The Purge.

The surprising success to the tune of $89 million global box office of the first Purge film, released just last year, saw the inevitable sequel get streamlined into production with the pungent whiff of a new franchise looming.

Whilst the second half of the first film nosedived into a well below par home invasion horror, it is worth remembering that the central premise is a big hook and by far the most successfully scary element was depicting a near future America that had just accepted and even sang the praises of all the good the Purge did for the nation.

Taking the wise move to not simply redo the same story but with a different family, writer and director, James DeMonaco leads the sequel onto the streets of urban warfare in Los Angeles. In doing this, the film is able to give a much broader and more interesting perspective of the Purge that was merely glimpsed in the first film. Come the start of the Purge this time, there’s a fantastic montage of many groups suiting up in their own brand of novel costumes, each looking more intimidating than the last. The film’s subheading of Anarchy is appropriate as the film looks at the Purge from a ground level of essentially average people “freeing the beast” one night a year as opposed to the frighteningly organised and meticulous  of Rhys Wakefield’s motley crew of stabby snobs.

P2It has to be said that whilst the trailers gave the impression that the film was going to more than just slightly influenced by the brilliant ‘The Warriors’ ie. group of individuals have to fight their way across a city beset on all sides by various colourfully attired gangs etc, the film successfully avoids any direct comparisons, for the most part. With a plot that sees a terrifyingly dictatorial government enforcing blood sport to suppress the masses, however, the similarities with The Hunger Games and Battle Royale remain unshakeable.

In place of the doomed yuppie family from the first film, here we have three separate stories that end up coming together to try to bring some varying backgrounds to the table. As a result of this, we get a mother with her daughter and a soon to be separated couple who combine to make four of the most dull and uninteresting characters ever seen in a horror film.

With profoundly wooden acting, even in particularly tense situations, their facial expressions and line delivery would suggest that they find this whole Purge thing rather a nuisance and would prefer it to stop now if that’s quite alright. It is simply impossible to be invested in their plight when they just seem so non-committal and simply eyeing the pay check waving tantalisingly at them just out of shot. Perhaps they’re not entirely to blame, however, the script is beyond clunky and much of the dialogue consists of characters stating the bleeding obvious exposition or saying what is happening onscreen in case the audience is too thick to realise what they’re watching.

P5With this in mind, it makes it all the more evident that the film would have been far better if it had focused solely on Grillo’s Sergeant character. A man driven to feel the need to take part in the Purge after the man responsible for his son’s death was allowed to walk free. From this set-up, the film could have just been based on his dark journey and the audience could have been allowed to make up their own minds as to whether or not he was justified in his actions, rather than having the irritating side-characters constantly nagging at him that what he’s doing is wrong. On top of this, he has a slick-looking reinforced car, is deadly with weapons and is pure, gruff anti-hero bad-ass material, seriously, why on earth isn’t this film just about him?!

It is clear that the central idea behind the film was supposed to be the notion of the power of the 1% of Americans and there are two all too brief but superbly captured sequences in which this comes to the fore and where the film is at its chilling and most effective. The allusions to the grip the New Founding Fathers now have on the country are fascinating and the idea of the extreme right wing’s wet dream come true is a genuinely frightening concept. The brief glimpses we get of the wealthy and powerful are delightfully skin-crawling as DeMonaco puts great effort into showing how beneath the plastic surgery and haute couture, there is little to no humanity left in them.

The brief moments when the light of what the film perhaps could be sadly get snuffed out by the arguably quite tame violence, featuring some overtly CGI blood splatterings usually reserved for lower budget fare. There is also the general feel of an almost videogame-like structure, where the hero has to get from point A to B, the baddies get tougher and tougher and the added crutch of an escort mission slows the whole thing down and just becomes tiresome. On top of this, there are several moments when things just get a little too ridiculous, most notably Michael K Williams’ hilarious over-acting as the resistance leader (fighting the violence of the Purge with…more violence) and when one character gets pumped full of lead, the reaction of genuine surprise in other character pronouncing, “Jesus Christ…she’s dead!” damn near brought the house down with giggles

P6Where The Purge differs from other modern-day franchises is that there are conceivably many different angles that sequels could take without running the risk of simply being more of the same. Between the two films, a whole number of intriguing ideas are raised but in each case, DeMonaco seems to favour a greater focus on the more linear and perhaps easier path of unchallenging and crowd-pleasing violence. Perhaps, if a third film is in the offing, DeMonaco could spread his creative wings a bit and focus on the bigger picture of the New Founding Fathers or the religious element that fuels some Purgers. Until then, The Purge films remain somewhat of a frustration in that there is so much potential on display only to see it watered down for lots of helpings of the old ultraviolence.

Verdict: A sequel of equality rather than superiority. There is a great film to be made based on the Purge concept; it’s just that neither film has really been it so far. 4/10

 

The Purge (2013) Review

 

USA, 2022. Crime and unemployment have never been lower and America is once again a proud and powerful country. However, all this has been made possible by the introduction of the annual 12 hour Purge when all crime, including murder is legal and all emergency services suspended.

Let me start by saying that unlike many others who scorned it with derision, I found the concept of ‘The Purge’ really grabbing and whilst it would be very difficult to argue the idea is not a million miles removed from something like ‘The Hunger Games’, the more realistic setting of a not too distant future America is refreshing as this takes place in a world that looks no different from our own but obviously becomes horribly twisted as the events in The Purge itself start to play out.
What really surprised me was the power of the opening pre-Purge section, brilliantly setting the scene and placing the audience right into the heart of an already established world. We hear and see news reports disturbingly treating the Purge as something normal, even celebrating its release of hatred that builds up in people and how it is greatly benefiting America.

We follow yuppie security salesman James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) on his way to get to his family home before the ‘lockdown’ and start of the Purge. We get the basic family set-up, gentle mum, weird teenage boy and rebellious teenage daughter. The gentle tension builds up deftly as we draw nearer to the start of the Purge, Sandin locks up his high security house…then as soon as the first gunshots are fired, the entire bottom of the film falls out and so begins an agonisingly slow and dull trudge of yet another house invasion horror.
It’s the strange case of a ‘house invasion’ horror where the invasion doesn’t happen until towards the very end, reducing a great concept from the start into something so tired and conventional. So predictable every was every jump scare and every ‘shocking’ twist that you could practically sing along with the film, the jumps so telegraphed and ‘twists’ that you could see coming from miles away.

The only real ‘twist’ which isn’t giving anything too serious away, is that the house invaders themselves are from rich upbringing and not the stereotypical thugs from other films of this ilk. With the lifeless pacing and lack of anything really happening, at one stage, the film follows Hawke and Headey simply walking about the house in the dark for such a long time I wasn’t sure if the film had got stuck on a loop.
In a bizarre way, ‘The Purge’ can be likened to another recent horror featuring Hawke, ‘Daybreakers’, in which all the hard work of establishing fantastic setting of an alien world on top of our own completely ultimately was completely let down when the threadbare plot turns up. Along with last year’s ‘Sinister’ that’s yet another poor horror film to star Ethan Hawke. I’m not saying it’s his fault or anything, but…
With regards to acting, it still continues to amaze me that Ethan Hawke is able to find work. All his emotions just seem off to me, that he’s never really horrified by the events going on around him, just a bit put-out. He does a great job at the start as a cocky security salesman but as soon as the proverbial hits the fan, out comes his trademark goggle-eyes and hanging lip that makes you want to yell at the screen and tell him to shut his mouth. Worse still is the mistreatment of great talent Lena Headey, the once proud Lannister reduced to a screaming and hysterical wife, the constant foil of her husband’s stupid plans and the moronic acts of her irritating children.

 

King Joffrey may be one of television’s nastiest characters ever, but at least he’s not an idiot, the son is the one responsible for all that happens to them and never seems to get away scot free! The bright shining diamond in the rough, however, is young Rhys Wakefield, the ‘leader’ of the invaders. Using an enjoyably disturbing polite attitude and an eerie smile, Wakefield literally seems to be the only actor aware of the dross he’s in and takes great pleasure in chewing the scenery to great and unnerving effect.

I could certainly see him as being a strong contender for the next ‘Joker’, just so long as he chooses better films in future.
I’m sure some people will say that I’m giving the film far too much credit by wondering if it was trying to make a cultural statement. Was it about gun crime?  The tight grip of religion on America? The extreme inequality of the rich over the poor? The only issue on which the film seemed to stand so very firmly on was that by far the best way to show how violence is such a terrible thing was to show as much awesome and slick looking violence as they possibly could into a 15-rated film.
If the film was restricted to a short of the first 20 minutes only, it would be remembered for being a wonderfully engaging and disturbing chiller of our world gone mad that made you shudder to think of the terrible possibility of that becoming reality. As it is, the brilliant pre-packaging gives way to a mess of a film that goes beyond tedious and you’ve already forgotten as soon as the lights go up.

4/10